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January 7, 2018

Tom Myers has dedicated his life to healing people through the power of touch. He has practiced integrative manual therapy, which includes massage and Rolfing, for over 40 years, and is the author of the book Anatomy Trains. It was great to interview such an eager and passionate teacher about fascia and its relationship to yoga and movement for Parvati Magazine (Parvatimagazine.com)

** At the bottom of the interview I put in his full description of the fascia and how it works within the body and with our yoga/movement practice. It is a wordy but VERY interesting read! It would not fit into the online interview below, but I thought it was worth adding to the bottom. If you come to my classes, you here me talk about fascia all the time, here is a more intricate description of it, from the expert himself:-) Enjoy!!**

Parvati Magazine: Let’s start with fascia. It seems to be a word everyone in the yoga community is talking about lately. What is it and what does it have to do with hatha yoga?

Tom Myers: The fascial system holds 70 trillion wet cells together by weaving the cells into strong pliable nets of collagen. Your tendons, ligaments – all the “tough stuff” – are predominantly made out of collagen.

Yoga plays a big part in maintaining healthy fascia, as it is a way of rehydrating the body tissues, so they will slide and glide into movement. Hydration is a matter of water filling in all the tissues. That is a matter of “squeezing the sponge” of those tissues, and that’s what yoga does – systematically and with increasing challenge as you become more adept. Many approaches to hatha yoga are designed to open the water mains in the body and irrigate the entire crop of cells – muscles, nerves, and the many surfaces of epithelia.

PMAG: Does fascia affect the mind or emotions?

TM: I doubt very much that fascia contributes directly to mental ability or emotional stability, but emotional instability projects or discharges into the body as muscular tension. The muscular tension puts the “knots” in the fascia, which leads to the downward spiral of dry and ineffective areas within muscles, joints, and even organs. As we open these tissues, we have the chance to “remake” those emotional instabilities. So work on the fascia – through bodywork, osteopathy, or yoga – can open the tissues to make way for an inner state change that would be difficult if the tissue were dry and gluey.

PMAG: When we practice yoga with poor technique, the body will eventually assert itself to let us know that we must change our ways to support healthy movement. What fascial connections do yoga practitioners need to know that will help prevent injury and enable healthy movement?

TM: The most important part of injury prevention in yoga is to move slowly. Dry tissue can tear if moved too quickly or too strongly. With sufficient patience, even the driest tissue will hydrate, expand, and begin to glide on its surroundings.

PMAG: Can you briefly describe how myofascial manipulation can help with stress, past trauma (stored emotions) and physical pain?

TM: Whatever pain you may be aware of at any given moment, far more pain is “stored” in the inert tissues. You begin to feel that “sweet pain” as you stretch beyond your common sphere of movement. Yoga is not the only way to achieve this, but it is a highly organised and developed way of finding your whole self. And your whole self makes better decisions – on a physiological level, and consequently on an emotional and developmental level as well.

PMAG: Based on your book Anatomy Trains, what is the main way that myofascial work can be of benefit to movement?

TM: The Anatomy Trains myofascial meridians provide a route map by which yoga asanas (postures) transmit stretch through the myofascial tissues you want to wake up. Knowledge of the Anatomy Trains can help deepen your practice, and help you see that having trouble in one [anatomy train] is because you have limited movement – dry fascia – in another. Seen in this way, yoga is fundamental movement hygiene. The Anatomy Trains are a tool for understanding how to help yoga to have long-lasting, whole-body, and spirit-freeing effects.

ADDED SECTION for your interest

Let’s approach what ‘fascia’ is about by considering a design problem – a fundamental challenge faced by evolution.  For most of the time life has been around on planet Earth, every living creature was a single-celled organism.  More recently – the last 600 million years – evolution found advantage in having organisms of that were colonies of cells, big colonies of cells.  You’re one of them, and you are a community of 70 trillion cells.

Having a huge colony of cells presents a host of design problems.  The circulatory and related systems evolved to get stuff from the outside to the middle (food, oxygen) and waste from the middle to the outside (pee, sweat, and carbon dioxide).  The nervous system set out to keep everyone inter-informed, and to make the cells wriggle in coherent waves to move toward food and companionship, and away from toxicity and aridity.

The fascial system evolved to solve this question:  How are we going to hold 70 trillion wet cells together?  The obvious answers would be: “Glue them together” or “Weave them together” – and the fascial system’s answer was; “Both”.

The woven part is what we mostly think of as ‘fascia’.  Plants weave themselves together with cellulose, a fairly stiff and inert sugar.  Animals chose to weave the cells into strong pliable nets of collagen, and the collagen fibrils make up most of the white sinewy stuff you see in any meat.  Your tendons, ligaments – all the ‘tough stuff’ – are made out of predominantly collagen, along with some elastin, which acts more like elastic bands.

This fabric is woven by specialised cells that manufacture it all day, and extrude it into the inter-cellular space where it organises to anchor the cells locally and protect them, self-repair if the boundary is breached, and give the muscles something to act on – and yet still leave the animal the ability to move around.  Of course this collagen net varies across the body – it is very loose in the breast and pancreas, but very strong and tight around the joints and spine.

The gluey part is mucous.  Our body is held together by snot, sorry to say.  Mucoid proteins are spread like Jell-o through the body, gluing the cells together, keeping them in communication or isolating them if they become infected.  These colloids are very adept at changing properties as conditions change, so they allow movement and stretch between the cells –

As long as they are hydrated. Dehydrated mucous becomes thick, sticking the layers of fabric to each other and limiting the body’s ability to move.

Enter yoga.  Yoga is a way of rehydrating the body tissues, so they will slide and glide into movement.  Hydration is not a matter of how much fluid your drink, it is a matter of whether that water fills in all the tissues in your far corners.  That is a matter of ‘squeezing the sponge’ of those tissues, and that’s what yoga does – systematically and with increasing challenge as you become more adept.

At the most basic level, this is what yoga does.  Squeeze the tissue sponge and let it soak up clean water.  Finding places where you are missing the squeeze, the stimulus, is part of your job when you are doing yoga.

Now, exercise certainly helps push water into forgotten tissue, and so does massage, and far be it from me to diss either of those.  But yoga – most of the many approaches to hatha yoga – are designed to open the water mains in the body and irrigate the entire crop of cells – muscles, nerves, and the many surfaces of epithelia.

Now you may say – that’s not a very interesting or glorious goal, just to make the whole body wet, but surprising benefits accrue when you do.  Bathed, perfused tissues do their jobs properly, e.g., nerves report accurate feelings and coordinate better movements in hydrated areas, and lose their neurotransmission in dry areas.

By the way, this points to the most important part of injury prevention in yoga: move slowly.  Dry tissue can tear if moved to quickly or too strongly – as in a sprain or tear.  The slowness of yoga and Tai Chi is part of their safety.  With sufficient patience, even the driest tissue will hydrate, expand, and begin to glide on its surroundings.  (Of course there are limits in those of us who are old, injured, or differently abled, but these limits are often far beyond what we commonly suppose.)

One can argue whether or not you are a better person because you can twist into this shape or that.  Indeed, some have argued that the positions of yoga evoke sacred development among the 70-trillion cell community, perhaps because of their resonance with animals or deities.  Others have argued that the positions themselves have no intrinsic value, but are designed to help us find our missing pieces and bring them back into consciousness again.

The Anatomy Trains myofascial meridians provides a route map for which yoga asanas transmit stretch through the myofascial tissues we want to wake up.  Yoga poses do not ‘stretch muscles’, they impose loads on long sheets of myofascial fabric.  It is the body’s response to that stimulus, not the stimulus itself, which is important.  The healing happens between the classes, between practices.

Tom Myers

Thomas Myers is the author of Anatomy Trains and the co-author of Fascial Release for Structural Balance. He has also produced over 35 DVDs and numerous webinars on visual assessment, Fascial Release Technique, and the applications of fascial research. Find Tom at www.anatomytrains.com.